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Miscarriage — spontaneous pregnancy loss before 20 weeks — is a common occurrence. Are you familiar with the symptoms and types of miscarriage, and would you know what to do in the aftermath?

Any spontaneous pregnancy loss before 20 weeks gestation is called a miscarriage, or in medical terms a spontaneous abortion.

A miscarriage is a sad event that sends some women into full-blown grieving, but it is also unfortunately very common. Between 10 and 25 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. If you include very early pregnancies — before the woman had a chance to visit the doctor, or even before she knew she was pregnant — that figure could be over 50 percent.

By far the most miscarriages occur within the first trimester of pregnancy, and this is why many people will advise newly pregnant couples to wait until after the 12th week to announce their happy news. While no specific cause will be identified for most individual miscarriages, the majority of first-trimester pregnancy losses happen as a result of chromosomal abnormalities that are not compatible with life.

Miscarriage isn't often, in other words, something that happens as the direct result of something the mother did or did not do.

Having said that, there are things that women can do to reduce the risk of miscarriage.

Before trying to conceive, taking a folic acid supplement of at least 400 mg daily is a highly recommended step. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, in which there is an opening in the spinal cord or brain. This forms in the very early stages of pregnancy, and to ensure that a woman has sufficient stores of folic acid she should start taking supplements three months prior to any conception attempt.

All women who are trying to conceive and pregnant should also make a healthy lifestyle and diet a priority. Alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs can all contribute to a miscarriage, or cause problems in a fetus. Strenuous and high-impact exercise during the first trimester more than triples the chance of miscarriage, so stick to walking, swimming, yoga and stretching.

Types Of Miscarriage

There are three types of miscarriage: a complete miscarriage, a partial miscarriage, and a missed miscarriage. 

A complete miscarriage will commence and end naturally. Cramping and spotting will be the first symptoms, followed by heaving bleeding that will include blood clots, the embryo or fetus, and other related tissues.

Heavy bleeding and cramps that come in a rhythmical pattern (uterine contractions) will generally last several hours.

After a miscarriage, it is normal to have vaginal bleeding for around two to three weeks.

In a partial miscarriage, the products of conception will start expelling naturally but some tissues remain inside the uterus. A missed miscarriage is a situation in which fetal death has occurred (there is no heartbeat), but the body does not expel the products of conception at all. 

A loss of pregnancy symptoms is the only noticeable symptom of a missed miscarriage that a woman might have, but this type of miscarriage is usually diagnosed coincidentally during a routine ultrasound scan.

Both partial and missed miscarriage require medication to induce bleeding and the expulsion of tissues, and often a D&C (dilation and curretage). A D&C is a procedure in which a doctor removes fetal and related tissues from the uterus, much like an abortion procedure.

An ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, can almost never be carried to term and requires medical intervention to end it, before the mother's life is endangered. While this is not technically speaking a miscarriage, women who suffered an ectopic pregnancy also suffered a form of natural pregnancy loss, and are likely to experience the same feelings women have after miscarrying a pregnancy that did develop in the uterus.

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